North Dakota’s 2019 paddlefish season kicked off at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, May 1, and by 7:30 the first fish was on the scale.
“It’s been going great!” Amy Krueger, Williston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director, told the Williston Herald.
Krueger and staff spent the day at the confluence, as excited anglers brought their prized prehistoric fish to the cleaning station to get weighed and processed. At of Wednesday afternoon, over 80 fish had already been caught, with the largest weighing in at 121 pounds, caught by Mark Emerson of Fairview.
Krueger said the season was already off to a better start than last year, which she attributes to the lower water levels along the Missouri river. Those lower levels are making the elusive fish a bit easier to snag, which Krueger says may make for a shorter fishing season this year. The season begins on May 1 every year and is scheduled to end on May 21, or whenever 1,000 fish are caught. In 2018, Krueger said the limit was never reached and the season lasted the full 21 days.
On Wednesday afternoon in the span of about 30 minutes, 10 people had brought their catches to the complimentary cleaning station, which is operated by North Star Caviar as a joint venture between the CVB and the Friends of Fort Union/Fort Buford. The paddlefish ranged anywhere from 25 pounds to over 80 pounds, with excited anglers sharing the stories of their sometimes hours-long battle bringing the fish to shore. Krueger said the yearly event brings visitors from across the country and Canada to the region, setting up camp along the river in the hopes of landing “The Big One.”
“It’s a unique fishing opportunity,” Krueger explained. “There’s really nowhere else in this region that you could go and do a snagging of a prehistoric fish and have that experience. It’s not an easy fish to catch. You’re casting it out, you’re snagging it, you’re reeling it in and once you snag one, it fights you. It’s a fight to bring them in, and it’s the thrill of that fight that the fisherman like.”
Paddlefishing times at the confluence are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, with harvest days on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Sunday, Monday and Thursdays are catch and release days. The North Dakota Game and Fish say snagging is legal in all areas of the Yellowstone River in North Dakota, and in the area of the Missouri River lying west of the U.S. Highway 85 bridge to the Montana border, excluding that portion from the pipeline crossing (river mile 1,577) downstream to the upper end of the Lewis and Clark Wildlife Management Area (river mile 1,565). For more information and for rules and regulations regarding the paddlefishing season, visit the North Dakota Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov.